Republicans dropped a hammer on IRS Commissioner John Koskinen during a testy hearing on Monday night over the disappearance of emails tied to the agency’s tea party targeting scandal.
The emails, covering the period January 2009 to April 2011, belonged to embattled former official Lois Lerner and could shed light on whether an expansive scheme to single out conservative groups for special scrutiny was guided by members of Congress or administration officials outside the IRS.
‘The committee requested all of Lois Lerner’s emails over a year ago,’ said House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa. ‘And we subpoenaed the emails in August 2013 and again in February 2014. … You worked to cover up the fact they were missing and only came forward to fess up on a Friday afternoon after you had been caught red-handed.’
‘You personally did not cause the targeting,’ he told Koskinen, referring to the tea party scandal. ‘You personally did not destroy the emails. But by your actions and your deception, you now own this scandal.’
‘We have a problem with you,’ Issa sniped at the front end of a three-hour, 36-minute ordeal, ‘and you have a problem maintaining your credibility.’
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Rep. Darrell Issa slammed IRS Commissioner John Koskinen: ‘We have a problem with you, and you have a problem maintaining your credibility’
No apologies: In a separate congressional hearing on Friday, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen insisted the loss of Lerner’s emails was due to an oddly timed glitch
Spectator sport: The IRS hearing drew a line down the hallway and brought more than 199,000 viewers to an online video livestream
Monday’s unusual evening hearing came as the result of a subpoena, and will continue Tuesday morning with a command performance from another Obama administration official.
Issa subpoenaed White House lawyer Jennifer O’Connor on Monday afternoon. He had invited her on Thursday to testify during the Tuesday session, but on Monday afternoon White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston wrote Issa to say his underling would not appear.
Before O’Connor’s promotion to the White House Counsel’s office, she was counsel to then-Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel.
Just ten days ago the IRS informed congressional investigators that a hard drive crash had destroyed 28 months of emails to and from Lerner, who led the IRS’s office in charge of vetting and policing tax-exempt nonprofit groups.
In an opening statement Monday night, Koskinen argued that ‘it is not unusual for computers anywhere to fail, especially at the IRS in light of the aged equipment IRS employees often have to use in light of the continual cuts in its budget these past four years.’
‘Since Jan. 1 of this year, for example,’ he claimed, ‘over 2,000 employees have suffered hard drive crashes.’
Koskinen referred several times on Monday to a lack of budget resources within the IRS, and raised the issue when asked why the agency didn’t do a better job keeping a backup of Lerner’s emails.
An outraged Issa insisted that Americans should be able to know ‘they’re being honestly treated by your employees, especially somebody at such a high level. Isn’t that in fact a priority that should have allowed for full retention?’
‘If we had the right resources, there would be a lot of priorities,’ Koskinen shot back.
‘So the American people should believe that if they don’t have the resources to pay their taxes, they shouldn’t pay their taxes’ Issa jabbed, ‘because if the IRS doesn’t have the resources, it won’t keep records?’
‘That’s pretty much what you’re telling us here tonight, is that resources are a question of whether or not you retain key documents.’
When Tennessee Republican Rep Scott DesJarlais asked Koskinen how much money it would take to replace the IRS’s computer systems in order to prevent another major data loss, he answered that it would cost between $10 and $30 million.
In a tense moment, DesJarlais then reminded him that the IRS paid $89 million in bonuses last year, including $1 million to agency employees who owed back taxes.
Issa added that the agency has an $1.8 billion information technology budget.
Koskinen said also that ‘the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has already begun an investigation’ into the email losses.
‘His report will provide an independent review of the situation concerning Ms. Lerner’s computer crash three years ago.’
That’s the same inspector general unit that launched Lerner into the spotlight 13 months ago, with an audit of its ‘inappropriate’ use of keywords like ‘patriots’ and ‘tea party’ to identify tax-exemption applicants that would receive inordinate levels of screening.
Koskinen fended off accusations Monday night that he lied to Congress on March 26 when he promised the IRS would turn over all of Lerner’s emails
Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz asked Koskinen a question he couldn’t answer: Why didn’t the IRS restore Lerner’s emails from a six-month ‘disaster recovery’ backup tape?
The result was a three-year period of intrusive screening of conservative groups while their liberal counterparts skated by and quickly received approval.
Issa’s committee staff prepared a video montage showing a cavalcade of Republicans during a March 26 hearing, demanding that Koskinen provide ‘all’ Lerner’s emails.
‘Yes, we will do that,’ the IRS commissioner is seen conceding
Issa tried to corner him Monday night, insisting that he ‘knew there was a problem with Lois Lerner’s emails when you came and testified in March.’
But Koskinen insisted that he had only been told that ‘there was an issue that no one knew the ramifications of.’
‘Somebody said, “There’s an odd development in the way the emails are showing up. We’re going to pull all her emails and investigate it”,’ he said. ‘The first time I knew that emails had been lost from her account was in April.’
‘All the emails that we have will be provided,’ he said moments later. ‘I did not say I would provide you emails that disappeared. If you have a magical way for me to do that, I’d be happy to know about it.’
‘My time has expired,’ Issa interjected while Koskinen continued to speak. ‘And I’ve lost my patience with you.’
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz needled Koskinen about a short-term data backup that the IRS had in place – but never used – when Lerner’s hard drive crashed in 2011.
‘It’s actually a disaster recovery system,’ the IRS commissioner testified, ‘and it backs up for six months in case the entire system goes down … That was the rule in 2011. Policy.’
Chaffetz wanted to know, ‘Why didn’t they just go to that six-month tape?’
Koskinen replied that it is ‘a disaster recovery tape that has all of the emails on it, and is a very complicated tape to actually extract emails [from], but I have not seen any emails to explain why they didn’t do it. So I – It would be difficult, but I don’t know why they didn’t do it.’
‘But you said that the IRS was going to extraordinary lengths to give it to the recovery team, correct?’ Chaffetz quizzed.
‘That’s correct,’ said Koskinen.
‘But it’s backed up – on tape?’
‘For six months, yes.’
‘So,’ Chaffetz asked, ‘why didn’t you get them off the backup?’
‘All I know about that is that the backup tapes are disaster recovery tapes that put everything in one lump,’ Koskinen replied, ‘and extracting individual emails out of that is very costly and difficult, and it was not the policy at the time.’
‘Did anybody try?’ Chaffetz asked the IRS commissioner.
‘I have no idea or indication that they did,’ came his answer.
Koskinen told Rep. Jim Jordan (L) that he couldn’t remember who told him that Lerner’s emails were lost
Koskinen testified under subpoena just hours after the Oversight Committee subpoenaed yet another witness, a White House lawyer who was promoted from her previous job advising the IRS on how to respond to congressional inquiries
In the March 26 hearing, Koskinen insisted that retrieving Lerner’s emails and submitting them to legal review – to make sure they don’t contain taxpayers’ private information – would take ‘years.’
‘They’re stored somewhere,’ he explained to Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz during that hearing. ‘They get taken off and stored in servers and you’ve got 90-thousand employees. … We can find, and we are in fact searching – we can find Lois Lerner’s emails.’
Koskinen didn’t mention the 2011 computer crash at the time.
He said on Monday that he couldn’t remember who told him about it in April.
‘Remember, I’m running an agency with 90,000 people,’ he protested. ‘We are dealing with a whole – we’re in the middle of filing season as all of this is going on.’
Koskinen’s suggestion in March that the emails were stored on a remote server – not only on Lerner’s personal computer – has brought howls from Republicans, especially since he testified on Friday in a House Ways and Means Committee hearing that the emails were gone for good, and that the IRS had ‘recycled’ the hard drive.
Audible gasps echoed throughout the hearing room as he voiced that admission.
Agency guidelines require that ‘IRS offices will not store the official recordkeeping copy of e-mail messages that are federal records ONLY on the electronic mail system.’
The rules also require IRS offices to back up email messages to ‘a separate electronic recordkeeping system.’
Email Sheriff: Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, has subpoenaed White House lawyer Jennifer O’Connor, the former chief counsel to then-acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel
Koskinen has worn Republicans’ arrows as a badge of honor, insisting that he owes no apologies for being the bearer of bad news about a computer crash.
But during Friday’s Ways and Means hearing, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan insisted, ‘Nobody believes you.’
Three days later, the sparks continued to fly.
Massachusetts Democratic Rep. John Tierney apologized to Koskinen at one point, saying he couldn’t remember seeing ‘a display of this kind of disrespect in all the time I have been in Congress. It is unfortunate that anyone would be subjected to it.’
Issa cautioned Tierney ‘not to characterize the intent or the character of your fellow members here.’
‘But it’s fair game to question the integrity of the witness?’ Koskinen piped up.
‘The rules of the House,’ Issa clarified, speak only ‘to questioning the integrity of members.’
In another exchange, California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier threatened to walk out unless the temperature of questions was reduced by several degrees.
‘I just want us to get back to basics,’ she said, ‘and to run this committee as it should be run, with respect and decorum.’
‘And badgering this commissioner, as virtually every member on the Republican side has done, is shameful. And it’s gotta stop.’
‘Or else, I’m telling you,’ Speier cautioned, ‘one member here is going to walk out and not return.’
Koskinen insisted that the IRS is working as fast as possible to give Congress all of Lerner’s emails and won’t apologize for the loss of countless documents because of a claimed computer crash
Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan then tried to edge in a question, asking in the prescribed way: ‘Will the gentlelady yield?’
‘The gentlelady is not yeilding,’ she responded.
‘Will the gentlelady please yield?’ Jordan tried again.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,’ she responded.
‘I said, “Will the gentlelady please yield?”‘ Jordan repeated.
‘That was better,’ Speier grinned, ‘but no.’
Lois Lerner the former Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS, is already charged with Contempt of Congress for refusing to answer a subpoena from Issa by testifying about a years-long scheme to use her agency to hamstring conservative organizations.
Issa said Monday on the Fox News Channel that Lerner presided over the targeting of tea party groups beginning in 2009 because President Barack Obama had made his opposition to the ‘Citizens United’ Supreme Court case well-known.
It was that federal case that cleared the way for a great amount of money to enter federal elections – some of which, congressional Democrats have charged, filters down to nonprofit groups that are forbidden to do any electioneering.
Republicans, however, see a partisan and politicized IRS picking winners and losers.
‘I believe Lois Lerner is hiding something,’ Issa said.
‘I believe the Justice Department, the IRS, and the White House are interested in her succeeding in hiding what she’s hiding, which is targeting of conservative groups based on their ideology in support of the president’s war on Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that he didn’t like.’
‘This is something he vehemently opposes,’ Issa said, ‘and Lois Lerner acted on his opposition.’
He also suggested the Obama administration is aware that his committee’s investigation into the IRS is geting perilously close to the White House itself.
‘Could it lead to political operatives of the president?’ he asked. ‘Yes.’
Former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner has invoked the Fifth Amendment twice while under subpoena to avoid testifying about her role in the tea party targeting scandal
The Dems are arguing that the IRS needs wider powers and a bigger budget. Voters, take action.
The eleventh-hour subpoena of O’Connor has brought a flurry of late-night lawyering on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, with a House Oversight committee source telling MailOnline that she is legally required to testify on Capitol Hill at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Eggleston, the White House counsel, confirmed in a terse email late Monday that O’Connor would appear.
A frustrated Issa issued a statement Monday along with the O’Connor subpoena, complaining that ‘a year ago, when news broke that the IRS had targeted Americans because of their political beliefs, President Obama pledged, “we will work with Congress as it performs its oversight role”.’
‘I’m disappointed that one year later, the White House has attempted to block this Committee’s first request for voluntary cooperation from a White House official.’
As counsel to the acting IRS commissioner, he said, she ‘led the response to the Congressional targeting inquiry’ from the IRS.
‘She is uniquely qualified to explain why attorneys did not focus on and flag Lerner’s “lost” e-mails at the outset.’
Tuesday night’s hearing was the topic of robust discussion on Twitter and Facebook, with more than 199,000 people watching a livestream video broadcast of the proceedings.